Thank goodness it was Friday.
But as fate would have it, I didn't go to school that day.
I woke up with an awful sore throat, and it hurt like hell. When I woke up, I didn't even bother trying to get out of bed because it hurt too much. My mother's footsteps up the stairs sounded like loud thumps to my ears, and I felt guilty for tapping the fishtank at the dentist's office when I was younger. At least my mother could be careful going down the stairs so that her footsteps didn't reverberate in my head. The fish didn't, and couldn't, have that luxury. The weird thing was that my head was unaffected, but my throat and nose was screaming at my brain at the moment.
"Sweetheart?" Mom said, coming into the room without knocking, despite that like any teenager, I wanted and loved privacy in my room. "It's almost six-thirty and the bus will be…" her voice trailed off when she saw that I was still lying in bed. "What's wrong sweetie?" she asked, frowning.
"It kills to just talk," I whispered, the words scratching against my dry throat. Mom frowned, and then I grimaced as she turned her head while looking for the tissue box, the air seeming to dry my nose out a little more.
"Hmmm, all right. You're staying home then," she said, walking over to the bureau and pulling out the dreaded thermometer. "I can tell you're sick, but if this damn thing says you're not, then I'll take you in this afternoon," she said, pulling the device out of the case. How it wound up on my dresser and not in the bathroom drawer, I didn't know. She sat down next to me on the bed, and, after checking her watch, stuck the device into my mouth. I didn't comment on the fact that we decided the thermometer was useless, seeing that I already had something of an abnormal body temperature. Since Mom kept forgetting that, she always went through the trouble of hunting down the thermometer.
"Mom, it doesn't work, remember?" I said, pulling the device out of my mouth. Mom opened her mouth to contradict me, thought about my words for a moment, and then shut it, acquiescing her defeat.
"I guess I will have to take you to the hospital later after breakfast, just to see if we can at least alleviate your symptoms," she said, running a soothing hand down my side slightly through the quilted covers. "Do you think you can eat anything?" she asked.
I shook my head. If I couldn't speak, what hope was there for eating?
She released her breath through her clenched teeth. "Okay, here's an idea. How about I take you to Crazy Pete's Saloon for breakfast after the hospital trip? You love that place, remember?"
I grinned, remembering the dining place. The owner, Crazy Pete, was a Texan who had dehydration-induced visions in the town of Chaney, Texas when he was a younger man. He spent the rest of his life claiming that a veil had been pulled from his eyes and that 'vegetarian' vampires existed. Now he sat alone in the corner of his saloon, reconstructed to mimic the one in Texas. It was his extended family that turned it into a family-friendly restaurant. Pete would sit in the corner in his old wicker rocking chair, refusing to accept food from anyone who hadn't lived in Kennebunkport for more than ten years. But I had heard if you were brave enough to ask him to recount his adventures in Texas and listen to it all, he would gladly tell you everything.
Figuring my silence was an affirmative response, Mom got up from the bedside. "I'll be ready to go when you are… just throw on a proper shirt and sweatshirt and we'll go," she said before leaving my room.
I just laid my head back on the pillows and closed my eyes, willing myself to get some rest. But my head was buzzing while my throat was burning. The food sounded tempting. Maybe if I didn't open my mouth or something, the burn would go away. I slowly sat up in bed. Then I automatically reached for the box on my nightstand that I kept my locket in, only to remember that it was still lost somewhere in the school. Unless of course, someone had taken it, which in that case I wasn't likely to ever see it again.
I swung my legs out of bed, and then slowly got up to my feet. I could hear Mom bustling around downstairs as I slowly got changed. Then I left the bedroom. I placed my hand on the wooden railing as I slowly walked down the stairs, grateful for remembering to put on socks. It was extremely foggy this morning, the cold and wet climate promising more rain later in the day. The floor felt unforgiving and cold as I padded down the stairs, careful not to get the hem of my pants stuck underneath my foot. Mom did that once. Slid down a few stairs, but walked away bruised and irritated.
"Come on," Mom said, coming around the corner and seeing me partway down the stairs. She was already wearing her coat and boots. She frowned, and then asked, "You're not going to wear your lucky charm today?"
Right. I hadn't told her about the missing locket yet. "Decided not to, not today," I said, not really in the mood to explain about the massive fight in the cafeteria yesterday. I bet to myself that Emmett Cullen got landed with enough detentions to keep him after school for a month, assuming he wasn't suspended, or worse, expelled.
Mom raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. She offered me my coat, and then walked to the front door, taking her keys as she did so. I slipped my jacket on, and then grudgingly followed her out the door. I wondered what treatment she was going to try this time, she had recorded several solutions over the years but had yet to find one that actually worked permanently.
"I wonder if there's a bug going around school. Lianna's mother called me this morning around six and asked me if I was keeping you home because she was keeping Lianna home," Mom said as we got into her yellow S&R vehicle.
Or maybe Lianna is staying home because she was too delicate to handle the brawl in school yesterday, I thought but knew better than to voice that thought aloud. Instead, I said, "Maybe so."
Mom scrunched her face up. "I wonder if it ever occurred to Ms. Thenson that she raised her daughter to be a delicate piece of china. Lianna acts like the slightest step will break her into a million little pieces," she muttered as she started the engine and pulled the car out of the driveway.
You and me both Mom, I thought, fighting back a grin. It never occurred to me that my mother and Lianna's parents would be at each other's throats also. Sweet. Mom fell silent, so I didn't contribute further to the conversation. The rest of the ride to the hospital was in a similar fashion, Mom making a comment every now and then while I just nodded in acknowledgement or agreement; my throat hurt a little more with every head movement she made, and I was close to outright asking her to just remain still for the rest of the trip.
"Oh shoot," Mom muttered as she pulled into the parking lot. I made the mistake of sneaking a peek to find that she had cut her finger on one of the dangling keys when she lowered her hand to turn the wheel. A small bead of scarlet blood was visible. I pressed my lips together and tried not to breathe, but failed. I suffered in silence as she parked her car in a spot next to a sleek Mercedes, in the 'Staff Only' spot. "One of these days, someone is going to take that car in vengeance or jealousy," Mom grumbled, gesturing to the Mercedes with her head while she wrapped her finger in a white tissue.
Probably in jealousy, I thought as I got out, shut the door, and followed Mom to the hospital front doors, her grumbling the whole time about incorrect license plates.
"Doctor Cullen!" she shouted, entering the employees' door and putting on her white coat. "Cullen, you've got work to do on your plates!"
"Excuse me?" Dr. Cullen said, coming in and looking puzzled. I raised an eyebrow when Edward appeared at his father's side, but then looked at my mother.
"You still have Wisconsin plates on your car. I don't care if you're an awesome doctor, the police aren't going to care either way," Mom said as she tied her hair back before shoving her purse and lunch into her locker.
Dr. Cullen still looked confused, but Edward suddenly said, "Emmett," by way of explanation. Dr. Cullen then nodded and then offered an apologetic smile to Mom.
"Thank you for pointing it out Laura, I'll have it fixed when I get home today," Dr. Cullen said before looking down at me. "Vanessa, it is good to see you again."
I smiled and offered a little wave. "She's feeling sick today, so I thought I would check her over in the morning," Mom said, saving me. "Am I required somewhere?" she asked, noting that Dr. Cullen was dressed for an operation.
"Pregnancy in Room 12A," Dr. Cullen said. He gestured to Edward and said, "He's helping me out a bit today."
Mom scowled. "All right, Vanessa? Why don't you go see Lexi and I'll get to you as soon as I can?" she said, looking pointedly at me. Ah, right. She knew I rarely got sick, and that this complaint was not because of illness, but because of something else that was wrong. But for sake of appearance she would play the sick card. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward look at my mother as though reading her mind.
"I'll go with her," Edward offered, and I raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
"No monkey business," Mom warned before leaving with Dr. Cullen. Edward and I started to move when Mom returned quickly and said, "Oh, and Nessie? I'll be looking for you in either Lexi's room or the employee lounge so be there."
I nodded, and then she left. Edward momentarily looked as though someone had slapped him, but he recovered quickly and resumed his normal expression. "You're not really sick, are you?" he asked suspiciously.
I shrugged. "My health has always been a little funky," I whispered. "My throat kills, but my head is fine. I always have a temperature, but I don't have a fever."
"Is Nessie just a nickname?" he asked, his eyes studying me critically.
I didn't like being under such scrutiny. "Yeah, Lexi came up with it," I said, hoping he wouldn't catch the little white lie. Mom had come up with the idea and started using it, Lexi just made it known throughout the school community.
Edward accepted my explanation. He just nodded, and then gestured for me to leave first.
We walked down the pristine hall. Edward seemed somewhat used to being in a hospital, but he just became a bit nervous when we passed the ER. I wondered if he planned to follow his adoptive father's footsteps and become a doctor also, but judging from the fact that his mouth was set in a thin line, it was unlikely.
As I expected, Lexi was playing a video game when we go to her room; I could hear the sounds of sci-fi zapping and explosions through the wood. I knocked softly, and at her shout to come in, I pushed the door and walked in.
She seemed much better, sitting up and focusing on the game. Her breakfast, a lonely waffle and banana, was sitting on her nightstand being ignored as she nibbled on a cookie she must have saved from dinner the night before. "Nessie!" she squealed when she saw me enter, but tehn I watched as the storm clouds instantaneously kicked in when Edward appeared behind me. "With Cullen Kid Number Three. Betcha you can hear me screaming for joy," she said sourly, her eyes narrowing significantly at Edward's appearance.
Edward frowned. "Where did the number come from?" he asked.
Lexi shrugged. "Heard your brother got into a slugfest yesterday at school. Figured I wasn't going to bother learning your names and keep track of everybody since some were going to leave and some were going to stay, so I numbered you off according to height," she said, pressing 'Pause' on the game and placing the controller on her lap, on top of the white patterned blankets. "The other two have significant inches above you."
"Emmett yes, Jasper not so much. How did you guess I was the third-tallest?" Edward asked calmly.
"Didn't guess. Researched," Lexi said smugly, holding up three manila folders. I bit back a laugh at Edward's slightly contorted expression as Lexi thumbed through his, Emmett's, and Jasper's medical records. "Tell Doctor C to keep better track of his stuff next time," Lexi said crossly, handing the folders over to Edward. She then turned to me and said, "How did you cut school and sneak past your mom?"
"I didn't, I'm not feeling that well," I said softly.
"What's your excuse?" Lexi demanded, turning to face Edward.
"Cullen Kid Number One," he said, his face twitching at the name.
"Is that going to be an universal excuse?" Lexi asked, and Edward nodded. Lexi leaned back in bed and said, "Now Kid Number Three, run along and give those back to Doctor C. Before he accuses you of taking them or something like that."
"Of course Cromwell Kid Number One. Doesn't make sense to upset the good doctor, does it?" Edward asked as he stood up. As he left I swear I heard him starting to laugh to himself.
"And I'm the only one, and don't you forget it!" Lexi shouted after him. She flipped the bird after him as he shut the door, and then turned to me. "I feel bad for their mom, having to put up with all six of them," she said, leaning back in her pillow.
I just nodded.
Lexi frowned thoughtfully. "I need a way to get into their house from the inside. That's why I found an excuse to get rid of Edward," she said, remembering his name without difficultly. She looked over at me. "Think you could help me find a way in?"
"I hate to say this, but you would probably appeal to Emmett the most, with your trouble-making ways," I said.
Lexi laughed shortly. "Are you kidding? His girlfriend is nothing but a viper in a freaking dress. I've got better luck with Jasper," she said, picking the frayed edge of her blanket. She shrugged, and said, "Just help me think of a way to get in the inside. I need all possible intel for my war against Emmett Cullen."
"I think you'll lose," I said abruptly.
"I'll either win, or die trying. There is no 'lose'," Lexi said stubbornly as her door opened yet again. "When I get out of here Ed, I'm going to slam you for being rude and coming in without knocking…"
"It's just me," Dr. Cullen said soothingly, coming around the corner with his clipboard. I saw him take note of the untouched food and Lexi's defiant expression before saying, "Vanessa? Your mother is going to be occupied for a while, so I will be checking you over."
I nodded, remembering not to say anything about my already-wacky health history. I smiled once at Lexi before getting up to follow Dr. Cullen. "Hey, you wanna come back and have a fresh, nutritious and yummy hospital breakfast with me?" Lexi said.
I smirked and said, "No way Jose, I'm going to Crazy Pete's after this."
Lexi's mouth dropped open. "No fair! Take me with you! They're poisoning me here!" she yelled as I left the room, laughing at her reaction. Dr. Cullen smiled but didn't comment. Edward, who was waiting right outside, rolled his eyes at Lexi's evident immaturity.
"She has a new name for you, and it is 'Ed'," I said to Edward, who shrugged.
"Better than 'Cullen Kid Number Three'," he said as his father walked ahead of us. I noticed that Dr. Cullen had the manila folders again, tucked underneath the clipboard.
"Vanessa, I was just reviewing your medical history," Dr. Cullen said, Edward seemingly retreating back behind his father and I. "It's rather… erratic for a daughter of an EMT."
I smiled, and wished I could read his mind right now, just to see what his reaction was of my record. "Yeah, I hang out with Lexi. She gets us both into a lot of scrapes," I said, smiling casually.
"Have you ever met your father?" he asked, no doubt finding where it said my parents were divorced.
"No. Mom never talks about him," I said, trying to think if I remembered my father. I had to have seen my father as an infant at least, but it was just that Mom never said how old I was when he left. I couldn't think up of an image, not even a hazy outline.
Not now at least.
"Is your normal body temperature usually this high?" he asked, lowering the clipboard so I could see the number he was pointing to.
I nodded. "Scared the last doctor before Mom started treating me," I said.
Edward snorted softly behind me as Dr. Cullen nodded. "I can see why. I can see from your record that you were born in California, do you remember it there?" he asked.
"No," I said, my throat hurting with each word.
Dr. Cullen seemed to sense this. "Sorry about making you talk. Yes or no questions from here on out, I promise," he said as we entered a small examination room. I sat down on the bed while Edward took a nearby stool and Dr. Cullen stood at the counter. I looked around the room, and it had its usual jars, charts and other intimidating furniture. The only abnormal thing was that there was a small tray with three vials with stoppers on the counter also. I didn't need to ask about the deep crimson liquid inside the vials, just mentally prayed that they wouldn't break. "So it's just your throat?" Dr. Cullen asked, successfully recapturing my attention.
"Open your mouth then, and let me see the back of your throat," he said, picking up a small flashlight. Edward, I noticed, had also zeroed in on the three vials and seemed to be deciding whether to knock them over or put them out of sight where they couldn't bother him anymore.
Dr. Cullen didn't say anything, just scribbled something down on his notes. "Have you tried drinking something?" he asked, taking a small paper cup out of the dispenser and filling it with water from the cooler that was sitting in the corner of the room.
I shook my head.
He watched as I took the cup from him and drank a bit of it. I waved my hand uncertainly in the air to show that it had worked a bit, but not completely. Dr. Cullen nodded thoughtfully before taking the cup from me and filling it again. I was sipping that one when there was a knock on the door and Mom came in.
"Carlisle, have you seen… never mind, found her," Mom said, smiling when she spotted me. She was clean and back in her street clothes. "I guess I'll take her now… email me whatever you found. Thank you for looking her over," she said, and I sensed that she didn't want him to say the results now, where I was listening.
"I'll make sure he does that," Edward said from where he was sitting.
Mom smiled. "Such a considerate son, isn't he?" she said, smiling as I slid off the bed and walked over to her. "You know, has your family been to Crazy Pete's? It's a classic restaurant that tourists and residents go to. Maybe we can make an event out of it?" she suggested, and I could only imagine Pete losing the last bits of his sanity with the overflow of newcomers in the neighborhood.
"Sounds like a good idea. I'll mention it to Esme," he said, and Edward nodded enthusiastically. "Oh and Vanessa? Go easy on the food there, will you?" he added as left the room with Mom.
I nodded to him, and then the door closed. Mom let out a breath she had been holding. "Well, at least I have an idea on what I get to look forward to when I get back," she said grimly. She looked down at me and asked, "Did you see Lexi? How was she?"
I gave her a thumbs-up.
Mom laughed, and we left the corridor and into the lobby. Crazy Pete's, here we come.
A/N: Mistflyer here again, we've been wicked busy lately, but we're back! :) Kudos to anyone who caught the 'X-Files: Bad Blood' reference.